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DEWEESE V. REINHARD, 165 U. S. 386 (1897)

U.S. Supreme Court

Deweese v. Reinhard, 165 U.S. 386 (1897)

Deweese v. Reinhard

No. 151

Argued January 13-14, 1897

Decided February 15, 1897

165 U.S. 386


The plaintiff's contention in this case was that, notwithstanding the action of the Department of the Interior in certifying the land in controversy to the State of Nebraska and the subsequent conveyances in the chain of title from that state to the appellees, such apparent legal title was absolutely void because, by the acts of Congress, the land was not subject to selection by the state, it being within the limits of the land grant to the Burlington g Missouri River Railroad Company, and reserved for homestead and preemption, but not for private entry. All the facts upon which that contention rested were matters of statute and record, and any defense to the apparent legal title created by them was available in an action at law to recover possession. Held that without deciding whether the selection and certification of these lands were absolutely void or simply voidable at the election of the government, or were valid and beyond any right of challenge of the government or anyone else, a case was not presented for the interference of a court of equity.

The controversy in this case respects the northeast quarter of section 14, township 5, range 3, situate in Saline County, Nebraska. The facts are these: The State of Nebraska, upon its admission into the Union, became entitled, by virtue of section 8 of the Act of Congress of September 4, 1841, c. 16, 5 Stat. 455, to 500,000 acres of public land to aid in promoting its internal improvements. March 26, 1868, the state selected 359,708 acres of land, including the tract in controversy, as part of this grant. March 24, 1870, the selection was approved by the Commissioner of the General Land Office, who, in his certificate of approval, certified that the lists had been

"carefully examined and compared with the township plats and tract books of this office, and are found to be free from conflict, and I respectfully recommend that the same be approved, subject to any valid interfering rights which may have existed at the date of selection."

March 29, 1870, this action was approved by the Secretary of the Interior in these words: "Approved, subject to all the rights above

Page 165 U. S. 387

mentioned." The lists, duly certified, were transmitted to the state and recorded in the proper office. April 20, 1871, the State of Nebraska patented 100,000 acres of these lands, including the tract in controversy, to the Midland Pacific Railway Company in execution of a contract made by the state, through an act of its legislature of February 15, 1869. Laws Neb. 1869, p. 153. The appellees hold under a chain of title from the Midland Pacific Railway Company, the deed to Jacob Reinhard, one of the appellees, and Frederick Fieser, being dated November 11, 1878, they at the time paying for the land twelve dollars per acre. On May 12, 1892, Frederick Fieser died, and his heirs and devisees are, in addition to Jacob Reinhard, the appellees in this case. The appellees and their grantors have paid the taxes of every kind levied upon the land since the patent from the state, amounting at the time of the decree in the circuit court to $1,375.81.

The claim of appellant was initiated on May 31, 1883, more than fifteen years after the selection by the state, more than thirteen years after the approval by the Secretary of the Interior of such selection and the certification to the state, twelve years after the state had conveyed the land away to its grantee, and nearly five years after the deed to appellees. It was initiated by an occupation of the tract, and an application to enter it as a homestead. This application was rejected by the local land officers, and their action in this matter was affirmed by the Commissioner of the General Land Office and the Secretary of the Interior. On July 6, 1888, the appellant, who had been in continuous possession ever since his first entry, tendered the local land office proof that he had complied with the terms and conditions of the homestead laws of the United States, and demanded a patent for the land. This was denied by the local land officers, and from such denial no appeal was taken. The theory upon which the appellant proceeded was that the land was within the limits of the grant made by the United States to the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad Company by act of Congress of July 2, 1864, c. 216, 13 Stat. 356, 364, and that, by the Act

Page 165 U. S. 388

of March 6, 1868, c. 20, 15 Stat. 39, the even-numbered sections within such limits were raised to double minimum lands, and, while subject to homestead and preemption entry, were not subject to private entry; that therefore the selection by and certification to the state were absolutely void, and passed no title; that the title remained in the United States until he, by full compliance with the requirements of the homestead laws, acquired an equitable right to the land.

An action of ejectment having been commenced by Reinhard and Fieser on November 16, 1885, in the United States Circuit Court for the District of Nebraska to recover possession, a bill in equity was filed by the appellant in the same court on October 8, 1888, to enjoin the further prosecution of that action and to quiet his title. Upon pleadings and proof, the circuit court entered a decree dismissing the bill, which decree was affirmed by the circuit court of appeals, 61 F. 777, from which decree an appeal was taken to this Court.

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